As the year draws to an end, everyone is busy putting together their "best of" or "retrospective" lists for 2004. Who am I to buck that sort of trend? So here is a sampling of my favorites from my year in tunes.
New Releases in 2004
Marillion - Marbles: I definitely found my marbles this year - in addition to paying a pretty penny for the special two-disc edition of Marillion's latest opus, I also got to see the band live in Cleveland (on their first US tour in seven years) and rounded out the year with a copy of the two-disc Marbles on the Road concert DVD. I will admit that I wasn't overwhelmed by Marbles at first, and I still am not convinced that it is the the band's best work. Still, it has some bits and pieces that are classics and stand up to the best of the band's extensive repertoire ("The Invisible Man," "Fantastic Place," and "Ocean Cloud," particularly). I had hoped that some of the bits that didn't click for me on disc would work out better live, but only "Neverland" really got better (I still get no thrill from "Angelina"). More highs than lows overall, however. As long as the band continues to do what they want to do and properly exploit the marketing power of their fan base, they'll do just fine.
Mike Keneally - Dog and The Universe Will Provide: It was a busy year for Mikey. Dog was his first "band" album since 2000's Dancing, and the first for the current four-piece (sadly no longer named Beer for Dolphins) lineup. TUWP was the culmination of his collaboration with Holland's Metropole Orkest, an hour plus of music for guitar and orchestra. Dog hasn't gotten quite the fawning reception that some of his earlier albums have from the fan base, but I think it's brilliant, with one exception ("Gravity Grab" doesn't grab me, for whatever reason). It rocks, it grooves, it's clever, it's catchy - and that doesn't even take into account the weirdly wonderful collage that is "This Tastes Like a Hotel." What more can you ask in one album? TUWP is equally brilliant, but in a completely different way. Mike shows his skills as composer and arranger for a really large ensemble. It's modern, but not impenetrable. And it even rocks and grooves, too!
Tears for Fears - Everybody Likes a Happy Ending: I bought this largely on the reviews of those on various prog newsgroups (Spock's Beard and Keneally Band drummer Nick D'virgilio has been their touring drummer for years), but I'm very glad I did. It's shamelessly Beatles and XTC-influenced pop, but it's really really good at what it does (and it never gets too syrupy, as XTC can occasionally do). It's probably the best non-prog mainstream album I've bought in years.
IQ - Dark Matter: Solid neo-prog, as you'd expect from these guys. They don't break any new ground, but they do what they do very well. The epics hold up, and the shorter tunes show them indulging a few newer influences.
New-to-Me Releases in 2004
The Tangent - The Music That Died Alone (2003): Progdom has been rife with super groups for the past few years. Aside from the guilty pleasure of Transatlantic, I've steered clear of most of them. But I was drawn to this lower-key project, largely because of the involvement of Van der Graff Generator's David Jackson. VdGG's dark, brooding style and Jackson's stabbing sax lines wouldn't seem a direct fit with the kittens-and-sunshine outlook of Roine Stolt (the Flower King himself). The result it really quite good. While it's certainly derivative of what has gone before, the band seems aware of that fact and sounds like its paying homage, rather than trying to pass off something as "new." Jackson wasn't around for their second album, which I haven't heard yet.So, that's it. Maybe I'll cover movies/DVDs tomorrow.
Bubblemath - Such Fine Particles of the Universe (2002): I got this largely because of comparisons with As the World-era echolyn. I can see that, but Bubblemath seems much more consciously complicated and has a much more wide-ranging lyrical sensibility. When they hit on all cylinders ("TV Paid Off," "Doll Hammer," "Your Disease is Nicer"), they're really great. If something's off, however, it sounds contrived and forced. Still, it's really good more often than it's bad. Another group whose new album I'm looking forward to.
Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Car)(1977) and Peter Gabriel (Melt)(1980): Gabriel's music always seemed to work better live to me, with the forced interaction of live musicians. For a long time, the only studio album of his I owned was the fourth eponymous disc (Security), which seemed sterile and overproduced. But when Up came out in 2002, I really liked it and decided to explore his older stuff when I got the chance. So far I've picked up the first, Car, and third, Melt, of his early albums and I enjoy both a lot. Car, in particular, covers a lot of stylistic ground, which I always like. And Melt has "Games Without Frontiers," my personal favorite of his hits.